View from India: ‘Mann ki Baat’, a spiritual journey for PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s talk show ‘Mann Ki Baat’ completed the 100th episode on 30 April. The episode was broadcast live in the United Nations headquarters in New York. Tune in to some fine memories.

Prime Minister (PM) Modi addresses the citizens of the country through ‘Mann Ki Baat’, a monthly radio programme aired on All India Radio (AIR). During his first term as PM, Modi launched the nation’s talk show on 3 October 2014, the festival of Vijaya Dashami, which is the festival of victory of good over evil. Since then, it has been aired at 11am on the last Sunday of every month. Over time, the talk show became a positive connection with the people.

The meaning of ‘Mann ki Baat’ can be understood as ‘Speak Your Mind’. The PM, as quoted by the media, has said that ‘Mann Ki Baat’ is a reflection of crores (tens of millions) of Indians; it is an expression of their feelings. “’Mann Ki Baat’ has been a catalyst in igniting numerous mass movements, be it ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ or ‘Catch the Rain’, ‘Mann Ki Baat’ has enabled mass movements to gain momentum,” said the PM. Har Ghar Tiranga is an initiative that encourages Indians to hoist the national flag at home as part of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, a government initiative to celebrate and commemorate 75 years of Independence and the glorious history of its people, culture and achievements.

The radio programme has showcased stories of talented individuals across diverse fields, from promoting Aatmanirbhar Bharat (Self Reliant India) to Make in India and space start-ups. The fact that the PM has reached out to the masses month after month speaks volumes. The programme has evolved into a citizen outreach programme; in a chatty, conversational and engaging manner, Modi has addressed women, youth and farmers. He has gently cajoled people to understand the benefits of eating millets; he has urged people to save the girl and educate children, which translates as Beti Bachao-Beti Padao, and addressed the nation to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour and register for the Covid vaccination drive.

Other national concerns such as cleanliness, water conservation, yoga as well as the ancient art of story-telling have all been highlighted from time to time. Many episodes have illustrated examples of common folk doing extraordinary work. For instance, the women of the Deur village of Chhattisgarh run campaigns to clean village squares, country squares, roads and temples through self-help groups. Similarly, the efforts of the tribal women of Tamil Nadu to export thousands of eco-friendly terracotta cups have been brought to light.

The 100th episode has highlighted efforts of other change makers: Haryana’s Sunil Jaglan, who kick-started the ‘Selfie with Daughter’ campaign from his village in 2015; Manipur’s Vijayashanti Devi, who makes clothes from lotus fibre and has an eye on the export market; the ‘Healing Himalayas’ campaign stewarded by Pradeep Sangwan, who collects five tonnes of garbage and runs waste-management initiatives in the rural Himalayas. Particular mention of Manzoor Ahmed, who employs over 200 people for manufacturing pencils in Oukhoo, a village in the Pulwama district of Jammu & Kashmir. The pencils are not just a means of livelihood, but also an educational tool or a means of expression for the village people and Oukhoo is now known as the pencil village of India.

With its diversity in topics and social issues, it’s understandable that the talk show has a massive fan following. A survey done by the Indian Institute of Management, Rohtak, indicates that to date over 100 crore (one billion) people have joined ‘Mann Ki Baat’. Of these, 60 per cent of listeners have committed themselves to work towards nation-building. As Modi put it: “Be it ‘Swachh Bharat’, Khadi or ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, issues raised in ‘Mann Ki Baat’ became people’s movements.”

For the PM, ‘Mann Ki Baat’ goes beyond a programme. It has given him a solution to connect with the people and has been a spiritual journey. In a nutshell, this programme indicates that the radio has a far-reaching connect with the masses. On the eve of 100th episode, the PM inaugurated 91 new 100W FM transmitters spread across 18 states and two union territories. This has enhanced AIR’s network from 524 to 615 stations. With these new transmitters, the coverage will further increase by about 35,000 sq km area, benefitting an additional two crore (20 million) people who did not have access to the medium. The point is to take FM radio services to people occupying remote regions and make information accessible and affordable to them. “The tech revolution has led to the shaping of radio and FM in a new way. Radio has not gone obsolete. Through online FMs and podcasts, it has come in a new avatar. Digital India has given it new listeners,” clarified the PM. And the FM radio could be a move towards democratisation of technology.  

Seen from the development perspective, optical fibre networks have percolated into the villages. This has lowered the cost of mobiles and made data affordable and accessible, giving an impetus to digital entrepreneurship in rural India as small businesses and street vendors use Unified Payment Interface, a mobile payment system where money is transferred between two bank accounts using a mobile.

Tune into the radio and the wavelengths match perfectly well.

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